Cultivation Series Part Three: Participation

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Rev. Anna Woofenden
The Garden Church
October 2nd, 2016
Scriptures: Micah 6:6-8, Acts 2:42-47
Listen to the Audio

Thursday morning I went on an early morning walk and I walked to a place on what I like to call, “the Garden Church historical tour.” I went to the shady patch under the trees where we had our very first Garden Church Gathering, two years ago last week. I stood and thought about all the people who have been part of this work at different parts of this adventure, from the founding board members to the people who showed up when we were meeting once a month in the parks and walking around the community, to those who showed up here once we opened our gates and keep showing up. All the different beautiful people who have shown up to make church together.

Last night, when so many of you and so many wonderful members of our community gathered together in this space to celebrate and support the Cultivation of community, I stood and looked around: at the beauty under the sparkling lights, at the amazing spread, at the event that this awesome team pulled off…at all the people from all different parts of our community, those who have been with the Garden Church since it was just an idea, those who have been working and loving the San Pedro community all their lives, those who just came in the gate that evening. And all of them, all of us had in common that we showed up.

And that’s what I want to talk about together today, showing up. As we wrap up our three-week Cultivation series, looking at what it means to be church and make church together, we look at our third marker-point of being a Cultivator—Participation. Two weeks ago, we talked about our first marker of being a Cultivator—Prayer—and explored our spiritual commitment, and committing to regularly pray on our own and together, because our hearts and lives are changed by commitment to regular spiritual practice. Last week we talked about pledging, how we are all interconnected and how the way we use our financial resources is part of our spiritual practice and being part of the interconnected whole together. And finally this week, we’re looking at our third marker-point of being part of this community—Participation. Being involved. Showing up.

One of you said to me recently, “Showing up” is a refrain you use often.” I hadn’t specifically noticed this before. I know that I preach ad nauseum about the power of all kinds of people eating together and the dignity of all human beings, and how we want to be part of cultivating more heaven, here on earth. But this “showing up” wasn’t something I had consciously taken on as a theme.

But when we started talking about it, I realized it was, it is, because somehow it’s actually at the base of all of these other values we are working to embody here at the Garden Church.
In order to come around God’s table with all kinds of people, we need to show up.
For dreams to be realized, for empty lots to turn into vibrant urban farms and sanctuaries, we need to show up.
For us to find reconciliation in our relationships and families, between races and classes, we need to show up.
For us to regenerate, or grow in our spiritual lives, we need to show up.
For us to be changed by a conversation with someone we wouldn’t normally interact with, we need to show up.
If you want to see God in the faces of all you meet, you need to be out in the world meeting people and showing up.

Showing up is something that we need to do for our own spiritual practice with God, and showing up is something we need to do together, as we love our neighbor. In the Swedenborgian tradition, we talk a lot about the trios, the trinities of the Divine and of spiritual life. One of the core trios described is Love, Wisdom, and Useful service. At the core of all things is love, but for it to be experienced in the world, it needs to be coupled with wisdom and put into action in useful service. But it doesn’t end there; it then circles back around, and as we engage in useful service, we need wisdom to guide us, we experience love, and the circle continues. And in order to encounter and engage the Divine, to be part of that cycle of love and wisdom and useful service, we need to show up.

Now I’m not saying that showing up in life is always easy. It’s a simple phrase that I believe is core and true, but it’s not easy. Showing up requires deep prayer, for strength and humility, showing up requires our commitment and practices. Showing up to open our gates and have each of your wonderful faces walk through them takes a lot of work behind the scenes, cultivating resources, nurturing the networks and relationship. Showing up for some people means a battle to get out of bed in the morning, to overcome mental and physical challenges. Showing up means doing the work to be present to each other, to look inside ourselves and examine the places in us that would prefer to stay walled off, not reach out, not be present. Showing up to God means being willing and humble to rest in God, to trust God, to believe in our value and worth as creations of a loving creator.

And showing up, while it’s not always easy, and it takes determination and choice and often hard work, is also so simple. And as this beautiful passage from Micah reminds us, it’s all God asks. God does not delight in the giving of oil and rams, of burnt offerings and sacrifices. It’s how we show up and what we show up to. Doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God.

Showing up doesn’t mean we always know the outcome or are going to be able to accomplish things exactly the way we had planned. Showing up is that humble walking, that surrender to God, being reminded step by step that She is the one who knows the way and is leading and providing and though we rarely know exactly what God is going to be up to, it seems that research shows that it will be more surprising and delightful and uncomfortable and transformative than anything we could come up with on our own. And here’s the magical thing, when we show up, and expect God to show up, God always does—and then other people show up too.

I have told some of you about how 4:05 on Sundays is my nemesis, but 5:20 is a joy. And you know why that is? Because you all show up. Often at 4:05 there are just a handful of us here (and oh so many blessings to those of you who are here then). And sometimes as I pray and ring the singing bowl, I have a little chat with God. Sometimes it’s more polite than other times and often includes the words, “Um, God, I showed up, where is everyone else??” But God is always faithful, because you all are here, and then more of you come in and then I see an interaction between two of you that brings me to tears. And then we all pray together, and by the time we’re sharing Holy Communion and then gathering around the dinner table with all sorts of neighbors loving each other, my faith in God and church is once again renewed, as we all show up at the table together and God totally shows up.

So what does it mean to be church together, what do we need to keep being church together? I think it’s pretty simple really. We need to pray in our own lives, walking more and more in the way of God. And pray together, for each other and with each other, to meet the world and its challenges and its joys with a spirit of prayer. We need to pledge. Paying attention to our resources and regularly practice giving them in a way that serves the well-being of the interconnected whole, knowing that we are all needed and that there is enough—enough and some to share. And we need to Participate. We need to show up. Literally, to be church together, to make church together, we need to show up. To walk through those gates, to be here regularly together. We need to show up with our whole selves, share our weakness and our stories, share our wisdom and our gifts. Show up with the humility to learn and to be changed, with the courage to be uncomfortable, with the tenacity to keep being curious and exploring.

Because when we show up, we’re not just showing up for ourselves, we’re showing up for others; our commitment to be here re-imagining church together impacts that interconnected web. What we’re doing individually matters, and who we are as a church together matters. Something powerful is happening here, as Jana said last night, it’s one of those “bright spots” in a world where it’s so easy to be engulfed in the polarization and struggle. And friends, so many people are engaged in this experiment and learning from it, gaining inspiration and lessons, rejoicing with us and praying with us. And already, in this short bit of time, you all have inspired others. There’s a dinner church that’s starting up in Boston in part because they heard me speak about our work here at a conference last year and thought, “we can do that.” There are people in our community who are growing things in their backyards and changing their food waste habits. There are churches and seminary students throughout our denomination and in our larger network that are asking questions about how one might re-imagine church in their context. There are churches here in our community who are partnering with us and asking questions about food security and our unhoused neighbors.

We’ve had visitors from as far as Australia and the UK, strangers that have become friends because they have heard of what we all are cultivating here together, and are touched and inspired by it. We don’t know who we will inspire or how our faithfulness will touch others, but we believe and trust a God who has a big interconnected picture in mind and calls us to be faithful to our part. Those early Jesus followers didn’t know that we’d be reading about them and talking about them two centuries later. They just were showing up, breaking bread together, saying prayers, learning and sharing things in common, being community together. But their faithfulness, their willingness to show up touches us today, in this long string of humanity that is choosing to show up and be curious, asking, “How do we love God and love neighbor together in community?”

Mother Gemma, who many of you met a couple of weeks ago, is a priest in the Church of England, and one of those people who has been praying, and pledging and participating from afar with us since the start. After being with us last month, her own visions for planting a church were re-affirmed and heightened. Last Sunday morning, she texted me and shared clarity of starting what she’s calling “Street Church.” Taking an old church and planting a church for “people who live and work on the streets. With a night shelter, showers for sex works, hot breakfasts, fresh coffee and mass every day for everyone.” We kept texting, and agreed that she should open up a bank account and that she and I at least would start giving to it regularly. I sent her her $20 via PayPal, and committed to continue to give monthly and pray, because Street Church needs to come into being. Mother Gemma needs to be able to show up to her ministry.

Because we’re all in this together and this work of re-imagining church is one that we share across oceans, across denominations, across cultures, as we’re all part of the Lord’s church on earth, the Universal Church that is looking to see, what does it mean to be faithful in this generation, what might happen if we keep showing up together? And as I look around this space, as I look at how this work is moving out into our community, as I look around at all of you, I’d say, “what happens when we keep showing up to make church together, to be church together?” Really good things. So dear ones, let’s keep it up. Let’s keep making church together, and being church together. Let’s keep showing up and trusting and believing and seeing and celebrating how when we show up, God shows up and the world is a better place for it. Do justice. Love kindness. And walk humbly with our God.

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